Nights of Cabiria

NightsSometimes a film performance is so perfect that you take the character home and make her part of your life. Giulietta Masina isn’t the kind of person I’d ordinarily invite over for dinner. A low-class prostitute with quite a mouth on her, you wouldn’t guess that she’s a sweetheart underneath.

But look at how much fun she’s having in the posh nightclub, doing the mambo with the self-absorbed actor who picked her up after a snit with his girlfriend. “People want to watch her unrehearsed reaction to the world,” said one commentator on the Criterion DVD. Others have compared her—aptly—to Charlie Chaplin. The closing scene of “Nights of Cabiria” strikes the same chord as the end of “City Lights.”

Masina was a comic genius who moved with grace, but wasn’t too proud to take a pratfall. She could make you laugh one moment, break your heart the next. Her performance opposite Anthony Quinn in “La Strada” was so devastating I haven’t had the courage to watch that film again.

This one I could watch a hundred times.